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Off-Grid Survival

9 Ways Going Off-Grid Is Getting Easier

Kevin Durkin for In the Mesh
Kevin Durkin for In the Mesh

In simple terms, going off-grid means living without being connected to public utilities like electric, water, sewage, or internet service. Without these services, going off-grid used to mean living a fairly primitive lifestyle. Now, mostly thanks to technological revolutions, going off-grid is getting a lot easier. Here are just some of the ways that going completely off-grid is easier today than in the past.

1.  More Off-Grid Power Options

You don’t need power to live off-grid, but having electricity makes a lot of aspects of off-grid living easier. The main off-grid power options include solar panels, micro-hydro, small wind turbines, and geothermal heat pumps.

These power sources have been available for decades but, until recently, the costs were too prohibitive to make them a realistic power source for people living off-grid.  Costs have dropped drastically in recent years, especially for solar panels. It’s feasible that in the near future many will choose to completely cut ties with the power company and become their own micro power grids.

2. Cheaper Battery Storage

Even when they do install solar panels, most consumers choose to remain connected to the electric utility. Remaining grid-tied ensures they have power even when the sun isn’t shining.  

Battery storage is key to going completely off-grid and still having a reliable power source. The problem is that home battery storage solutions can cost as much as or even more than solar panels. Luckily, battery costs are dropping rapidly. Prices of lithium-ion batteries have dropped about 80% in the past five years. When storage becomes cheap enough, it will become easier for people to go completely off-grid without worrying that they’ll be left without power. 

3. Mesh Communication

In the past, people living off-grid might need to trek into town to send a letter or make a call on a public phone if they wanted to get in touch with someone. Now, there are many off-grid communication options with mesh being one of the most promising.

Mesh technology, such as goTenna Mesh, allows you to turn your cell phone into a peer-to-peer network so you can send messages to other users. You don’t need to have a cell phone contract or even a cell signal for mesh to work, so you can completely cut ties with your cell service provider.

4. Tax Incentives and Rebates

There are now many local, state, and federal financial incentives for using off-grid technology and systems. These go beyond rebates for solar panels. You can find rebates and tax incentives for everything from your rainwater harvesting system to your energy-efficient appliances to your waterless toilet. This helps remove the financial obstacle of going completely off-grid.

5. Relaxed Codes and Regulations

Building codes and zoning rules can be a surprising obstacle to going completely off-grid. State building codes often prohibit alternative building materials like straw bales or make it illegal to recycle greywater without installing costly plumbing systems.

While it is still slow coming, governments are starting to change the rules to make it easier to go off-grid. For example, many states now have laws that prohibit homeowner associations from restricting solar panels. 

6. More Off-Grid Appliances

Going off-grid no longer means you have to give up modern conveniences. There are now many appliances which don’t require electricity to work. For example, you can find foot-pedal washing machines which are much easier to use than old wringer-type washing machines. There are even hand-crank blenders, solar ovens, and wood stoves that will charge your USB devices.

In addition to these off-grid appliances, it’s also easier to find low-energy appliances. These appliances are essential to reducing your electric needs so you can live off of your renewable power system.

7. Access to Information

Perhaps one of the most important ways that going off-grid is easier today than in the past is access to information. The vast number of how-to articles, videos, and forums means you can get ideas for new off-grid projects, figure out how to install or repair your own systems, and learn about new off-grid technology.

8. Work from Home

In the past, people living completely off-grid didn’t have many options for making an income. They were usually limited to making money from their land, such as by selling surplus food, or selling crafts such as handmade furniture.

The rise in working from home has completely changed this. In 2000, only 3.3% of Americans worked from home. In 2019, that number had risen to 22%. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, working from home is only getting more popular. This means you can live completely off-grid while still having a career and many income opportunities.

9. Off-Grid Urban Living is Feasible

Traditionally, off-grid living is associated with remote cabins or rural homesteads. Thus, the off-grid lifestyle could seem impossible for people who wanted to remain in an urban or suburban environment. This is slowly starting to change though.

Local zoning laws still make it illegal to live completely off-grid in most places (you’ll probably at least need to pay for the municipal sewage connection). However, technology like solar roof shingles, rainwater harvesting systems, and greywater recycling mean that even city dwellers can disconnect from the electric and water utilities easily.